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Baking a Dream: The Theobroma Story

Baking a Dream: The Theobroma Story

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Baking a Dream: The Theobroma Story

312 Seiten
3 Stunden
Feb 5, 2020


Anyone who's tried Theobroma brownies knows that they are literally food for the gods. What most people don't know is that the recipe was born in a small Colaba kitchen, on a neighbour's request.

Baking a Dream: The Theobroma Story is the story of a 'food-obsessed' family that made their culinary dreams come true. Theobroma founders Kainaz and Tina Messman tell the story of how their ambitious and slightly eccentric Parsi family grew a home catering business into a multi-million business venture. From a single cafe with just four tables, Theobroma has today grown into a chain of 50 outlets across the country. The Messman sisters offer a no-holds-barred look at the challenges of working with family and offer tips on how to turn a passion for baking into a profitable career.

Sharing their stumbles and successes, the book also serves as a guide to other entrepreneurs looking to scale their ventures.
Feb 5, 2020

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Baking a Dream - Tina Messman Wykes



IHAD BEEN ASKED to write a book many times. Publishers, big and small, asked if I would write a recipe book. At the first instance, I considered it briefly, but then decided it was not what I really wanted to do. I did not have enough time, I was not patient enough to go through the laborious process, I would not have the budget or resources to do it properly – the reasons were aplenty. Over the years I got the same inquiry and I declined for the same reasons, and life carried on.

A few years ago, a small publisher approached me again, but this time, to write my story and not a recipe book. This was new and interesting. I still had questions. What would we write and would we have enough to write? Would it be interesting and who would read it? I spoke to my sister Tina and she confirmed all my doubts. That would have been the end of it, but she also said, ‘Let’s do it anyway. Let’s do it as a labour of love and a memoir for our children to read.’ The idea of this book was now in Tina’s head and ever since, she has wanted to make it happen.

Tina is an accountant and she inherently thinks in terms of risk and reward, effort versus gain, profitability and sales. Wanting to write a book that may not bring us any financial gain was out of character for her, but we decided to explore it and put in some time and effort anyway. I paused and went back to looking after my newborn daughter. Tina’s brain went into overdrive; the control freak had a new project, the notes were made, the typing started – she was thinking of little else, and within a few months, the skeleton of our book was ready. At this time, we had no book contract; nothing more than a few emails of interest from one editor – no idea what or why we were doing this.

The book did not happen then; it was shelved.

Then, in 2018, we were contacted again, this time by HarperCollins Publishers India and we already had a rough outline ready to share with them. They were enthusiastic, energetic and encouraging from the word go. Within weeks, we had a conference call, a proposal and a publishing contract (thank you, Shreya Punj and Diya Kar), and the project picked up momentum again. We were on our way.

An online search for corporate biographies revealed an intimidating list. Books have been written about Walmart, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Reliance, Infosys and Haldiram’s. We are minuscule and unknown when compared to these giants. But it is small- and medium-sized enterprises that are started in towns, cities and countries all over the world every day; so there was niche, after all, for a book about a small and young company that was still making a name for itself.

We were often fighting fires behind the scenes and through the years of frantic activity; we did not ever pause to keep notes or jot anything down. So, there are a few gaps in our memory as we write this, but we are retelling a journey as best as we can remember it.

Theobroma is so intertwined into my life that it seems misguided to try and separate my story from that of our company. However, building our company has been a team effort and I hope you get a feel of the people and their perspectives as you read along.

We hope that some of the readers of this book will be our dear guests – to you our sincerest and deepest thanks for being with us on this journey and making it more beautiful than in the realms of our wildest dreams.

With much love,



THIS IS THE STORY of a man who was unemployed and penniless when his first child was on the way, of a young girl growing up in a small town in central India, of their daughter who was almost held back each year at school and another who built a much-loved company and brand without any great plan, flaming drive or overt ambition.

This is not a story of creating anything new, of doing anything revolutionary or of changing the world.

This is a journey of an ordinary family, of a business built in a little over a decade and without doing anything path-breaking at all.

As we completed 15 years in business (2004–2019), we have documented our journey to mark this milestone: our mistakes and successes, our battles and conflicts, lost opportunities, how we shaped our business and how our business shaped us.

The pages that follow is our story: the journey of my family, my company and of myself.

I have loved most of it, and I am grateful for how it worked out. I recognize that I am lucky, I count my blessings, and I give thanks. This has been a therapeutic process, a nostalgic look back at what we did and how we got here. I am still relatively young and there is yet more to come; I have a head and heart that is filled with plans, hope and optimism.

‘We should start our own business’

It was 2003, and I was resting due to a bulging disc in my spine. In the hotel kitchen where I worked, I often carried the heaviest loads to prove that I could do it all. I had had a fall too, and hurt my back in the process. My doctor had suggested that I find an alternative career. The Oberoi management offered to find me another position, but I did not want a desk job. I wanted to remain in the kitchen, where I had been happy and content. I was 24 years old then.

My back injury forced me to pause, but it set my family in action. One day, as I lay in bed at home, my father Farokh [FRM] and sister Tina, who was visiting from London, decided it was a good time to start the discussion. I remember only snatches of that initial conversation. I recall saying that I would think about starting a business, but I was on strong medication due to the pain and I fell asleep midway. When I woke up, they were still in the room, discussing our initial investment, sales and break-even levels. I didn’t even know what break-even was at that time!

My Mum Kamal was excited about starting something for ourselves. She ran a small business from home and, at times, she would take orders, but then decide to go out with her friends instead and ask us to make the desserts. Tina and I grew up wrapping chocolates and making desserts. My childhood memories are built on this foundation of home-made cakes and chocolates, and our business idea was to create a dessert destination.

The four of us thought that starting a full-fledged business of our own would be more of the same, on a slightly bigger scale but not very different from what we were already doing from home. We didn’t have a business-growth plan or any real plan. There was no master strategy to create a brand, chain or empire. At the outset, we just got going and then carried on.

By September 2003, I quit my job at the Oberoi and a year later, in October 2004, we opened our first outlet in Cusrow Baug, Colaba.

We identified Colaba Causeway as the location for our first outlet due to good footfalls, proximity to our home and my grandmother’s flat, which was to become our kitchen.

We saw a few properties but identified the one we wanted early on in our search. It had been a doctor’s clinic in Cusrow Baug, Colaba. The doctor was well known in the gated Parsi community where it was situated. We acquired the property and then there was no looking back.

Dad funded all the initial costs of starting our business, which was approximately ₹1.5 crore, half of which went towards acquiring our Colaba outlet on the pagdi system. The rest went towards acquiring bakery equipment, floor tiles, and plates, cups and glasses. We were on a limited budget and so we designed the layout and interiors ourselves. We soon discovered that this was not our wisest move. We did not plan the workflow, of how our guests and staff would move within our small space. I wanted wooden flooring and loved the rustic look of a brick wall. I was advised that a wooden floor was impractical for a high-traffic area, but I went ahead with it anyway. The experts were right and I was wrong. The floor got scratched within days and looked shabby in weeks. I loved the brick wall for all the time that we had it, as I thought it gave a warm feel to the place. It was only many years later that it was explained to me that a red brick wall was totally wrong for a patisserie.

Our home business of chocolates, cakes, desserts and brownies served as the blueprint for what we were going to make and offer. My best friend Dilshad (Dilly) and I spent hours discussing the food, and all my products were tried and tested by her. If an item didn’t pass Dilly’s palate test, it didn’t make it to the menu.

We started out as a dessert destination and have evolved over the years, adding sandwiches and savouries in response to many requests. We are still primarily a cake and dessert destination, and some of the staple products on our menu today are those that we started with 15 years ago. Our truffle cake, chocolate- chip brownie, walnut brownie, mava cake and chocolate orange mousse cake are just a few examples.

Our vision began to take shape, but we struggled to choose a name for our business. We considered Tai (a combination of Tina and Kainaz), Square Circle and Divine Calories. Tina pitched ‘Kainaz Messman’ too, as she wanted to build the business brand around my identity, but I was totally against that.

Tina was working at a broking firm in London at the time and told Michael Dann, a sugar broker and head of commodities trading, about our plan to start this business, and he suggested the name ‘Theobroma’. Theobroma is derived from the Greek words ‘theos’ (god) and ‘broma’ (food). It translates to ‘food of the gods’. Theobroma Cacao is also the botanical name of the cocoa plant. Most local bakeries at the time had ‘cookie’, ‘brownie’ or ‘baker’ in their name. Theobroma was unusual, weird even. At first we were unsure ourselves, and all our friends advised us against using this name. No one liked it, few could pronounce it and nobody knew what it meant. Over time, Theobroma grew on us and we made the unconventional choice. Fortunately, it worked to our advantage. Everyone was forced to put effort into remembering, pronouncing and spelling our name. ‘Theobroma’ is not easy to forget. I will forever be grateful to Michael for suggesting the name. Of course, we still get called all sorts of weird names, with ‘The Obama’ probably being the most common.

We opened on Dussehra day in 2004, with four small tables, hope and a prayer. We didn’t know what to expect. Would we recover the cost of starting our business? Would there be enough customers to fill the tiny tables that we had ordered? We set out on this journey agreeing to make only what we liked to eat ourselves. We promised to make it well, and to keep it simple. In the days leading up to the launch, we made many lists of what to make and what to cut out.

In the lead up to our big day, Mum did not sleep for many nights – she is a worrier by nature. Mr Vikram Oberoi had called Mum to say that I had a great future with the Oberoi Group and that leaving the hotel was a big mistake. Mr P.R.S. Oberoi had already offered to send me to Vienna for training. One of Mum’s friends, who was in a similar business, estimated that our average turnover would be ₹8,000 per day. Mum burst into tears on hearing this. By our calculations, we needed a sale of ₹22,000 per day to break even. Mum clung to the words of our architect Parvez Chavda, the one person who told her not to worry and who anticipated there would be a queue outside. He was right. Our little cake shop took off like no other. Soon, it was packed to the gills and we had people queuing up outside. We fondly remember the time as ‘sweet chaos’.

Ironically, I missed the opening moment! We were meant to open at 11 a.m., but this got delayed because the flooring was still being laid. I was at the kitchen that was at my grandmother’s flat a few lanes away, and it was mayhem. We were running around in circles, in the tiny space, trying to get our products out of the door. By 2 p.m., some of the shelves were filled, but many remained empty. Mum, Dad and Tina cut the ribbon to mark our opening. I stayed on at the kitchen, working, shouting and directing everyone. We were completely disorganized, we had no order sheet or plan, and we were just making whatever we could.

A few hours after we had opened, I received a call from Tina saying that our shelves were completely empty and that I had to send more products across. We finished the desserts that we had started making for the following day and sent them out too. I rushed home for a quick shower and reached the outlet at around 8 p.m. We had invited a few of our extended family and friends to see the place. I was exhausted and could barely stand, but I smiled and greeted everyone.

We had obtained a liquor licence for that evening, and ordered many bottles of wine for our invited guests. The bottles were refrigerated in the pantry behind. At one point in the evening, we went into the pantry to find the staff had helped themselves to all our liquor and were making merry at the back. Mum’s driver was so drunk that he was unable to speak, let alone drive. Too exhausted to do anything, Tina, Dilly, Dilly’s husband Karan, and I went around the corner to Ling’s Pavilion for a celebratory dinner.

This was the beginning of a very gruelling and difficult time, but we continued to draw strength from the response we were getting. There was one guest – we can’t recall his name but remember that he introduced himself as the manager of Dalchini restaurant in Wimbledon Park, London – who bought a few products, spoke to Tina and left. An hour or two later, he came back with a bamboo plant for us and told us where to place it. He said that it would bring us luck and wished for our business to do well.

I became a chef by choice, but my family made me an entrepreneur. They believed that they gave me a nudge in that direction, but, actually, it was a big push. God has been merciful. On the day we first started, and on many other days too, we sold out within a few hours.


A winner in the lottery of birth

IAM A WINNER in the lottery of birth. I was born to parents who love me immensely.

Mum named me Kainaz, it was her choice. Dad had chosen Tina’s name, so it was Mum’s turn the second time around. Dad lived in London for a while before he got married and people struggled to pronounce his name. Both Dad and his brother had acquired anglicized versions of their names while they lived there. He wanted an easy name for his child, in case she went abroad and had to fit in. He chose Tina because it was short and sweet, but she turned out neither short nor sweet, he laments. Mum had liked ‘Raina’ for me but Dad apparently vetoed it. Mum then chose ‘Kainaz’, the name is Persian in origin. Kainaz means ‘pride of kingdom,’ says my mother. This has not been verified though, as Google was unable to provide a definitive answer.

Parsi surnames often have a link or connection to an ancestral profession; this is why Doctor, Driver, Lawyer and Engineer are all common Parsi family names. I am told that our forefathers ran the canteen on a ship (called a mess) and that is how we got Messman as our family name.

Our home was always full of food, fun and friends. My parents both ran their own successful businesses. I grew up in a house where business was the fifth member of our family. Even when I was too young to participate or understand, business life was in the background; it was part of the environment that we grew up in.

We travelled regularly and ate out often. I wanted for nothing. I attended Fort Convent School in Mumbai, where I received a basic education. The emphasis at that time was on covering the syllabus and much of it was learning by rote. I flourished in that environment; I achieved good grades with minimal effort. Tina hated studying while at school, and it was easy to outshine while I was being compared to her.

I came into my own and became ‘Kainaz’ only when my sister finished school. After that, I truly blossomed. I have the happiest memories of school, friends and fun. I was popular and loved. I was a school prefect. I was naughty and nice. I made friends that remain my dearest today.

Tina and I were brought up believing we could achieve anything. Dad never asked us to study hard or to become lawyers, engineers or doctors, ‘the usual rubbish that all parents tell their children,’ is how he puts it. His ambition was to ensure that we had a happy childhood. When Tina brought home a poor report card, which was all the time, Mum would get hysterical and cry her heart out. Dad would remind her that he had once come last in class, yet managed to do fine, but that seemed to aggravate the situation further. Much to Mum’s distress, Dad did not partake in the habitual post-examination report card despondency in our home. His only requirement was that Tina did not fail a school year and he was happy that she managed to pass each time.

I was the younger child so I was protected and mollycoddled. I didn’t need to push any boundaries; my sister did that work for me. Crossing the boundaries set by Tina required no energy and effort, so I grew up blissfully without pressure or pain.

When we opened the first Theobroma outlet, I knew how to bake cakes but not much else. I was totally unprepared for the retail market and the demands and challenges that lay ahead. I went from having the responsibility of making one product at a time in a comfortable 5-star environment to being responsible for everything.

The early days of a business are tough. Nothing is predictable and most days it felt like things just weren’t going to work out. I knew opening a bakery was going to be difficult, but until we did it, I couldn’t have imagined how hard it was going to be.

To say we didn’t anticipate the demand for our products would be a gross understatement. Customers would walk in to find the counters almost bare. We were making as much as we could and we were selling everything we made. Our brownies, truffle cake, cheesecake and Tiered Temptation (a chocolate–orange mousse cake) just flew off the shelves. We were a small team, but with only one trained chef. Whenever we received a big order of a few hundred hampers, Mum’s friends Preeti, Neelam and Chandri would come over to help us pack, to ensure it was delivered on time.

We had chosen the Cusrow Baug location for Theobroma because of its proximity to my grandmother’s old flat in Shirin Manzil, which became the bakery kitchen. The infrastructure I had at the time was basic since all our funds had gone into the initial costs of starting the business ourselves. The corridor of her flat became my chocolate room, the dining room was the hot kitchen, cakes were made in the living room and we used her bedroom for storage. Her bed, mattress removed, became our shelving unit, and her dining table was all the workspace we had.

It was impossible for us to increase production because we had only two domestic refrigerators to store our products. In those early days, we had no inventory, order sheets or numbers. We just made what we could and whatever we made just sold quickly. We prepared things in batches – 100 rolls, 200 or 300 puffs, as many brownies as we could bake.

Like my temperamental oven, I would routinely break down sobbing in my mother’s arms overwhelmed by the water,

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